Saturday, January 31, 2009

Addicted to Free MP3s

I have a serious problem with my iPod. 

The problem is that I cannot stop downloading random free songs from Amazon. They post all kinds of weird stuff, samples of this and that, in hopes that you'll find something you love and buy the whole album. 

But there's so much of it, and I just keep thinking "heck, I'll take this, it's free--I'll listen to it and decide later if I want to keep it." Then I simply never even listen to it. There are too many songs, and I don't spend that much time listening to music.

Isn't there something sort of wasteful, lazy, wrong about stuffing an iPod with hundreds of songs I've never heard of, in fact never heard, and possibly never will hear? Would my time and music-listening attention be better used just enjoying the music that I actually like and that I own on purpose?

While I'm puzzling over that, I might as well download a few more songs. They might be just the ones I turn out to really love.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Important News Items

Herewith, the things I read today that made me go "hmm."

Mother Jones asks, "Should You Fear the Killer Robots?"

Well, gosh. How can I say no? It pretty much always seems like a good idea to fear killer robots.

The piece is an interview with Peter Singer, the author of a new book on military technology called Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century. Apparently we should indeed fear the killer robots, or at least be wary of them. 

But outright terror seems like an appropriate response to me.

Health Populi reports increased consumer spending on wine and vitamins. The piece suggests that this is a good thing, because it means people are concerned with their health (red wine has that resveratrol, after all). 

This may be so, but I have to wonder, are people buying wine because it's healthy, or because they need some comfort in these trying times? Perhaps we should ask if people are buying good wine.

On reflection, I guess if people were just looking to get drunk, cheap vodka is more economical, so yeah, I'll go with the positive spin.

And Genetics and Health points out a company called MyRedHairGene that (for a mere $119, or $214 for two) promises to test your DNA for genes associated with red hair. There are apparently several variations on a gene called MC1R that will do: a handy piece of trivia for whenever this comes up in conversation.

This is all well and good, but I already know I have a gene variation associated with red hair, so what I'm really interested in is ensuring that this gene triumphs over any other, lesser genes that might try to interfere with my hypothetical offspring's head. 

Can you make my gene invincible, MyRedHairGene? 'Cause that would get my attention. 

Failing that, can you somehow make sure that my offspring's other parent, should he also be a carrier, passes on the proper MC1R variant and not some other shade? Do you offer a way to select for hair color?

Yes, it's true: I'm making light of genetic testing of embryos. For the record, I do not support embryo selection based on MC1R genes, should you ever happen to be in the position of choosing from among several embryos. (Although, all else being equal, if you have to base the decision on something...)

I did learn some interesting tidbits from the MyRedHairGene site, which offers a user-friendly primer on hair color genetics. I'm not taking it very seriously, but I'm curious what sort of response it will get (or has gotten; it's not clear from the site how long it's been in operation).

It claims to have been founded in response to "steady requests" from people wanting to find out if they or their children are carriers, so perhaps there's a real market for this.

Well, I'm all for information! Especially about something as important as red hair. So red on, brave company!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Herring's Fins, Needles and Pins: All Placebos

Orac at Respectful Insolence questions whether, in the wake of another meta-analysis on the subject, we can finally just conclude that acupuncture is "an elaborate placebo."

And I say, sure, let's do it! 

I had acupuncture once, for a neck problem. I don't recall it doing anything for me, even placebically. (And quite frankly, I feel cheated. Damn it, I want my placebo effect!) 

I also once had that thing where they heat air under little glass cups and suction them onto your back. I had a dramatic pattern of circular hickies that was quite impressive, but I don't remember it doing much for my cough. 

I've had some homeopathy, for this and that. I can't say I ever noticed that it made any difference. 

Ooh, and flower essences! I tried that (to keep a friend company). I wasn't expecting anything, and I didn't get anything. So in that limited sense, it worked great. 

And don't forget that I've eaten fried grasshoppers. That wasn't actually for medicinal purposes, but it was out of the ordinary, so I thought I'd throw it in there. I must say it worked very well, first to satisfy my hunger, and then later, when I didn't want to eat any more grasshoppers, to make me decide I wasn't actually that hungry to begin with and could wait for supper.

The thing is, sometimes the more ordinary medications I've taken also haven't seemed to do that much, so I can see how things get confused.

I mean, I've often taken aspirin for a headache and not had the headache completely go away. At least not immediately. And you figure it's always going to go away at some point, so did the aspirin do anything, or not?

I've taken other medicines, and again there's not an instantaneous cure. Things take a while to get better. And then you think maybe they were going to get better anyway. And if you've been getting acupuncture at the same time as you've been taking antibiotics (not that this describes me personally), who's to say which one really helped?

Well, it is my blog, so--I am. The antibiotics helped. And always take the full course, or you'll be guilty of aiding in the recruitment and training of antimicrobial-resistant super-bugs that will come back to get us all. Also, do not ask for antibiotics to treat a cold, which is viral. Thank you.

Anyway, I always enjoy Orac's coverage of research studies. He neatly describes methodologies, concerns, interpretations of results, etc., in a way that make me feel like I actually understand it. (Which is useful since, working in a medical library and all, I should sort of know how research works.)

Here's another thing: do people actually take aspirin at the same time as they're getting acupuncture? Because now that I think of it, years ago when I was adventuring with ye olde complementary and alternative medicine, I sort of didn't 'believe in' aspirin, because it was...I dunno, commercial, or something. It wasn't natural. 

Whereas needles in the neck, that happens all the time in nature. Though possibly just to those of us who can't stop bothering porcupines. 

Anyway, far be it from me to deride anyone's healthcare choices (Orac will take care of that). If you like your acupuncture, or your little glass cups, or your reiki, knock yourself out. But I gotta say, the actual evidence isn't great. 

I love my evidence these days. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Fascinating News About Neanderthals

The National Geographic has an article up about the passing of the Neanderthals, "our closest prehistoric relatives" (though not, it appears, our ancestors: DNA evidence suggests early humans probably did not interbreed with Neanderthals).

In a section close to my own heart, the story agrees with prior reports that some Neanderthals had red hair and freckles--although, again, their gene for the trait is different from ours, which suggests that it evolved independently. (This adds weight to my own claim that red hair is just that awesome: it had to be evolved!)

There are also some cool images of what these people might have looked like. 

It certainly makes you were these people almost the same species as us. Although they died out too long ago to make speculation very meaningful (the article wonders whether humans share responsibility for that, but thinks that in all likelihood there were, at least, other factors involved), you have to kind of wish we could meet them.

I thank Dangerous Intersection for pointing this out.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Know What Twitter is Like?

I'm sorry, I'm apparently obsessed and can't think of anything else. (And the mystery is, if I love it so much, how come I never actually use it?)

But it just occurred to me what Twitter is like. Remember how back when I was a callow youth in library school I'd log into my online classroom, and there would be a section of the screen that displayed the instructor's slides, or the student presentation, or whatever?

And then there'd be this other section of the screen for chat, so people could type in their comments and questions?

We'd get these conversations going in the chat section, commenting on something the presenter had said, offering some tangential thought, making jokes, adding random observations about unrelated things.

There was this sort of sub-class going on, related to but not completely following the formal presentation. I used to compare it to passing notes in an offline classroom, assuming you passed the note to everyone in class (including the professor).

Well, Twitter is like that! At least, it's like that when you have a bunch of people posting about some shared event. We're all passing notes about whatever's going on, or else about unrelated things we happen to be thinking about, but all within some general context. 

I guess when there's no unifying event that everyone's sort of 'gathered around' to make a general context, it's more like posting notes on the bulletin board in an empty classroom, and having people wander by to read them and possibly respond, or not.

But at least potentially, Twitter is classroom chat for the world. Wow, that sounds impressive.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Grow-Your-Own Research Subjects

Respectful Insolence has a thoughtful post (inspired by this NY Times article) about scientists who use their children as subjects in their research studies.

While I can see the convenience (these kids are right there all the time--perfect study subjects), I can also see the author's point when he finds this sort of creepy and questionable. The original article also talks about how having a child as a participant in a parent's studies can potentially affect the relationship in unforeseen ways.

On the other hand, everything anyone does with a child can potentially affect the relationship; every childhood is sort of one long, mostly undocumented, non-IRB-approved and unrepeatable experiment to determine what kind of person will result from the combination of x genes, y experiences and z environment. Is it that big a deal to toss in some documentation and some specific questions?

I really don't know. I definitely get that it's odd, and I have kind of an "ew, weird" reaction myself to the idea of experimenting on one's children, but as long as the studies are not abusive and you maintain a good relationship otherwise, I don't know if I really think it's bad

I guess I just imagine these kids' lives, and figure things are probably no weirder for them than for any kid whose parents follow any sort of unorthodox child rearing practices (special diets, home schooling, non-mainstream religious beliefs, pathological hatred of noise-making plastic toys, etc.). 

You could even say that all these unorthodox practices are experiments (again, mostly undocumented, not approved by any overseeing body, and unrepeatable), designed to see how effectively one can produce, say, grub-eating, public-school-fearing, gnome-worshipping, noise-abhorring adults by following certain steps. And while I certainly don't agree with everyone's take on food, education, religion or toys, I'm hesitant to condemn their practices, as long as they aren't abusive. 

Still, an interesting question.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

One More Twitter Note

I am really not about making this blog All Twitter All the Time, but I did like this note from the World Health Care Blog about diabetics using Twitter to help track their blood sugar.

It's not primarily a function of Twitter, it's a site called SugarStats that lets you keep track of blood glucose, medication, activity, and food with an online log. You can update this log via Twitter, though, as well as using your cell phone, or, of course, logging into the site iteself.

It looks like a cool program. If I were diabetic, I'd be all over it. 

Friday, January 23, 2009

Great: Something Else to Live Up To

iLibrarian points out that the Guardian (a UK newspaper) has put together a selection of "1000 novels everyone must read: the definitive list." (More sentence case post titles. I am beset with doubts about my own titling practices.)

On reviewing the list, divided into several categories, I find that my reading past is severely lacking.

In the Comedy category, I read Don Quixote when I was about 12. I didn't realize it was funny, though. I did read Bridget Jones's Diary, somewhat more recently, and The Wind in the Willows about a million years ago...seriously, was that one funny? I remember finding it kind of melancholy. I mean, Mr. Toad was amusing, but the whole going away on adventure and coming back to find everything changed (or was that The Hobbit?) made me wistful. I have read a good deal of P.G. Wodehouse, probably including the 6 titles listed here; they blend together a bit.

In Crime, I have read a fair amount of Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle, likely including the 5 and 3, respectively, that are listed. I also read The Moonstone, and Jurassic Park, although I wouldn't have classified that as 'crime,' and I think Michael Crichton is a rather dreadful writer. I read Crime and Punishment and The Name of the Rose. I read Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow, although in my edition it was called Smilla's Sense of Snow, which actually flows a little better. I read The Crying of Lot 49, but I didn't get anything out of it and remember almost nothing. I read Gorky Park, and some Dorothy L. Sayers, but not the ones here.

In Family and Self, I read Little Women, Evelina, Howard's End, The Old Man and the Sea, Ulysses, Sons and Lovers, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4 (entertaining!), Fathers and Sons, The Color Purple, and The Picture of Dorian Gray. So I apparently like family-and-self lit OK.

In Love...let's see how much I like love. I've read Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, Rebecca, The Mill on the Floss, The Scarlet Letter, The Remains of the Day, Lady Chatterley's Lover, Women in Love (I had a course on D.H. Lawrence), Lolita (that's love?), Delta of Venus (I was about 13, so this was hot stuff), Doctor Zhivago, and Wide Sargasso Sea. So I feel sort of so-so about love.

I would be inclined to say I like Science Fiction and Fantasy, but let's see how my record supports this: I've read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Foundation, The Handmaid's Tale, Fahrenheit 451, A Clockwork Orange, Kindred , Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, Childhood's End (although I can't really remember it), Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, American Gods, Lord of the Flies, The House of the Seven Gables, Stranger in a Strange Land, Dune, Brave New World, The Turning of the Screw (which I completely failed to find creepy), The Chronicles of Narnia (the last one was disappointing), Nineteen Eighty-Four, His Dark Materials, The Female Man, The Little Prince, Frankenstein, Hyperion (just recently), Snow Crash, Dracula, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, and The Time Machine. So there's a lot on the list I haven't read, but I'm doing better in this category than in some of the others. Also, some of these are technically more than one book.

In State of the Nation: I have Things Fall Apart, A Tale of Two Cities, Oliver Twist, Middlemarch, Silas Marner, A Passage to India, and Animal Farm. Not too great a showing here. I do not seem to be fond of political material.

For War and Travel (interesting combination), I've read...let's see...The Kite Runner, The Call of the Wild, Moby-Dick, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Ivanhoe, Maus, Cryptonomicon, Kidnapped, War and Peace, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I don't appear to like war or travel either.

So out of the Guardian's 1,000 must-reads, I've read about 90. Obviously I've got a lot of work to do.

This raises the question, what have I been reading, if not these fine novels?

Well, a lot of non-fiction, of course. Also, some fiction that was complete bilge. But also, some fiction that I thought was good but that's not here. 

I hope we've all learned something from this little exercise. I know I've learned that it's possible to spend way more time than you'd think looking at a list of novels and noting the few I've read.

I'm sure that will come in all kinds of handy.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Spooky Socializing

I have to love this Rough Type article for the title alone: Sharing is creepy. You know, it really is! (Hey, how come Nicholas Carr writes blog titles posts in sentence case, while I write them in title case? Am I horribly, horribly wrong?)

In addition to having an entertaining title, however, the post is also an interesting exploration of some of the odd aspects of social networking and web-habitation. It can be disconcerting to reflect on how much personal information we share, even when we've willingly chosen to do so in order to facilitate participation in online communities.

The post quotes a couple of other interesting pieces, including a Wired article I read a few days ago. Certainly we live in odd times.

In other news, it is the 36th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, and is Blog for Choice Day in the pro-choice blogosphere. 

I think you can guess which quote sums up my feelings on this matter: "Abortions for some, miniature American flags for others!"

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

More Twittering

The Krafty Librarian, who is more awesome than I am, has some thoughts about Twitter and its use in health care. 

She expresses something I've also wondered about:

I have yet to really figure out what voice I want within it [Twitter]. Do I want to have a professional twitter feed keeping people updated with library news, activities, and things similar to this blog? Or do I post about non library events like I did during the inauguration today? I enjoy hearing from other people and keeping up with events, but I am still trying to find my twitter legs.

Heh: 'Twitter legs.' I like it. 

I am similarly unsure what I'm trying to do with Twitter. Something professionally relevant? Something personally amusing? Anything at all? Am I only doing it because everyone else is? If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would I do it too?*

As a result of this uncertainty, I sort of half-assedly post random updates at random times when I happen to think of it. There is, as yet, no larger theme, except on occasions like the inauguration and the election, where I enjoyed reading and posting with a bunch of other people on a single event. 

I found that an interesting way to add to the experience of an event in which I was not directly participating, and could see this perspective also being fun for a bunch of people at a party or a concert, say--enjoying each others' viewpoints on a subject of shared interest.

I could also see postings on a general theme of medicine, health care, etc. being a useful possibility. Science Roll is very interested in this potential, and I like to see the explorations there. 

I'm certainly no part of such thematically organized Twittering, though. I don't even have it on my phone (I pay per text, and just don't want to pay for that many messages). I enjoy reading other peoples' updates, and see interesting possibilities for the technology, but we'll have to see whether or not it turns into anything more than occasional blurting of disconnected thoughts for me. 

*It depends. Are there cool technology gadgets, free movies, or wine under the bridge?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

In Other Pressing News--

I am deeply concerned about this peanut butter issue. Sure, at the moment it's just products made with peanut butter, but I fear for the safety of the peanut butter itself.

Peanut butter is one of the several food groups for me. I depend on peanut butter! 

Also today, I enjoyed a high-tech (though rather low-quality) viewing of the inauguration via streaming video from various sites. I particularly appreciated CNN's link with Facebook, which allowed viewers of the video feed to also post Facebook status updates that showed up alongside the image. 

It was like a little online party, with back and forth comments about what people were seeing. Or not seeing. The video feed, clearly overloaded, was patchy at best for me, so I missed most of the actual swearing in.

Still, it was a fun way to do it, sharing the event with friends. Maybe next big event, livestreaming TV will have come into its own and we'll do this again. 

Monday, January 19, 2009

MLK Note

Here's to the work of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

A human being who got some important stuff done.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Approaching Death

GruntDoc highlights this interesting post from Aggravated DocSurg called Four Horsemen of a Trauma Death.

It talks about exactly what might be happening in and to your body if you happen to get drunk and drive your car into a tree on a cold winter's night (as so many of us do), using the Four Horsemen of Hemorrhage, Hypothermia, Time, and Death to cover the details.

It reminded me of Peter Stark's grim but fascinating book Last Breath, which similarly covers the details of what's going on physiologically as humans die from various causes. What's going on as you freeze to death? Die of dehydration? Weaken from scurvy?

There's something very compelling about the idea of knowing and understanding these points. Partly, I guess, the demystification makes the process seem less scary (not that I personally would probably be any calmer if I were actually about to expire from heatstroke or something). It's still not desirable, but it makes sense. We like things to make sense.

And partly, it's just wildly amazing how things work, and exactly how they come apart if they're not working anymore. Biological processes are so fascinating. 

And gross. Very, very gross. 

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Return of Cloudo

Long ago in the mists of schooltime on another blog, I came accross Cloudo, "The Computer, Evolved."

It's a virtual desktop that lives in the cloud. You can log into it from any computer, and work with documents stored there, without needing to have them on any hard drive.

They've just opened up for beta (I vaguely recall putting my name on the list to be notified when they did), so I signed up. It looks pretty slick, in a completely familiar desktop way. Everything is exactly where you'd think it was on a default desktop setup, so it's easy to figure out how to start using it, and there's an option to start developing your own applications.

It appears to be a bit glitchy yet. Documents (which can be saved in Word or Text format) occasionally don't reopen or save properly, it can be slow or unresponsive, etc.

Slowness will probably be just one of the issues of keeping your documents in the ether instead of on your computer. Of course, if they're on your computer, and your hard drive crashes, you're equally out of luck. Maybe they should be everywhere, just to ensure that good old redundant backup. 

Personally, I like to keep copies of everything I have on my work computer, my home computer, my backup hard drive, my Google docs account, and in hardcopy in my basement and my backup storage facility. 

Because my sugar cookie recipes and collection development notes are crucial.

Anyhow, I'll give Cloudo a shot or two to see what it's like. My main question right now: can I change the wallpaper? I like the picture that's there fine, but one wants to tinker and personalize.

We'll see how it goes.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Now This is a Good Question

From Mark Tiedemann at Dangerous Intersection

Many on the Right feel everyone should have the freedom to own weapons. They think, implicitly, everyone is capable of proper usage of guns and that just because a certain number of individuals clearly intend to use them to the detriment of others, that that is no excuse to keep them out of the hands of everyone else. They are supportive of education in proper use of firearms.

So why the different attitude toward sex?

I've never thought about it that way before, but it's a very interesting juxtaposition. 

I guess a possible answer, if I believed it, would be "guns merely kill people, but illicit sex is a sin and endangers immortal souls, which is clearly a more important issue and one more worthy of our concern."


It's a little like the oft-noted fact that you can get away with showing more violence in movies than you can sexual content. Horrible bloody dismemberment and dozens of vividly depicted deaths? OK.

A few seconds of nudity? Horror! Adult content! Warn the public! (If it's male nudity, forget it. Just having such a movie playing in the same building will probably warp the children's fragile little minds.)

I used to think it was very weird that a guy I know would calmly watch the bloodiest thing you could think of, but found explicit sex scenes discomforting. You're OK with depictions of people dying in agony, but not depictions of people expressing friendly physical relationships?

Eventually I decided that this is possibly because violence in general is perceived as being more public than sex. You can do it in the open. Be lauded for it. Have dramatic tales told and retold.

Plus, one can fight and kill and die for noble causes, for the sake of the goal or the dream or the country. One doesn't generally have sex for a noble cause, or hear stories about brave and daring heroes who save the world through judicious use of practiced kama sutra techniques. 


Well, anyway, the original question is still pretty awesome.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Book-Burnin' Movie Review: "Inkheart"

Now this movie has a library tie-in, by gum!

There's this one character, see, with a private library of rare and precious books, see, including unique 12th-century Persian manuscripts, see, and then...some thugs wreck up the place, and make a book bonfire for no apparent reason.

General thuggery, don't you know. It disturbed the books' owner, and certainly cut me to the quick. 

Why do you have to trash the library, dude? What did books ever do to you?

The movie's message, though, is reminiscent of the one in that Indiana Jones movie, where Dr. Jones rides a motorcycle into the reading room and tells an astonished student "if you want to be an archaeologist, you have to get out of the library!"

In this movie it's more like, "you can't actually live through books: you have to get out there and live for real!"

Which, hey, I got no beef with that. I concur that you can't get everything in life from books. Books = awesome, but life also = awesome. Have some from column A and some from column B! 

So anyway, we saw a preview screening of this movie Inkheart tonight. It wasn't bad. We're not completely in its intended demographic, so kids might think it was really great, while I overheard another guy saying it was unbearably saccharine sweet.

It's about a girl, Meggie, whose father can bring things to life out of books by reading them aloud. He's brought out all sorts of mean, nasty, ugly-looking people, who are causing trouble, and much action over various handsome landscapes ensues. So Meggie and her father and some entertaining characters they fall in with get in and out of captivity and strive to save the day.

It has lively adventure, some reasonably fun and spunky characters, decent effects, grand ideas about the power of the written/read word, and lots of happy endings. Plus, Helen Mirren. 

One could do worse.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Speaking of Bugs

I saw this alarming article in Stuff@Night detailing the ways in which wine may be vegan/vegetarian-unfriendly (not to mention kind of gross).

It seems--and stands to reason when you think about it--that large numbers of insects and even small mammals tend to get swept up in the grape harvest and may wind up pulverised in the wine-making process. Needless to say, any solid particles of these creatures will be strained out before the wine reaches the bottle and your glass (or, if you're in a hurry, your mouth), but if you're serious about a vegan lifestyle, you have to consider that animals probably did die in the process.

I would imagine, though, that the same must be said about wheat, corn, or pretty much anything that's harvested using the efficient machinery of the modern agricultural process. Those machines aren't selective enough to pick only the part we eat: they're going to sweep a lot of little things up along with it.

Not to mention the insects and small animals that are intentionally killed to prevent them from eating the crops before we get to them.

So if you eat bread, might as well have wine to go with it, that's what I say.

I personally am not a vegan, although I'm sympathetic to the idea, so I'm more interested in the ick-factor of bug juice in my wine. But, as I concluded with regard to food coloring, I'm willing to assume that what I don't know won't hurt me on this. If I can't see bug legs floating around, I'll drink it.

Heck, even if I do see a stray insect limb, I might pick it out and drink it anyway. I hate to waste good wine, after all.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Speaking of Blood and Technology

I was vastly disappointed and saddened when I tried to give blood yesterday and it turned out I couldn't because I have malaria.

I jest. In fact, I was afraid  my iron might be too low, as it sometimes is, but this time it was fine. Then I got onto the table, and they got the needle into my reclusive vein, and it turned out that my arm was just not happy about being asked to part with blood that day.

So I waited patiently for more than an hour, and did all the health history, and got the needle marks, and then after all that, I couldn't donate. Frustrating. I'm a failure.

But I got some cookies out of it, anyway.

Also, the part that has to do with technology that I wanted to mention was that the series of questions about whether or not you've lived in Europe for 5 continuous years or ever--even once!--had sex with anyone who's ever exchanged money or drugs for sex, and so forth, is now on the computer.

Well, it was on the computer before, and the blood drive person would read the questions off in a rapid monotone while you tried to pay enough attention to understand whether you needed to say 'yes' or 'no.' But now they just set it up and you read the questions yourself and click Yes or No with the mouse.

Saves a lot of time (at least for anyone who can read faster than a blood drive technician can talk), and no doubt some wear and tear on the Red Cross folks' voices. I'm all for it.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Cute Little Sacks of Blood

Healthy Concerns raises a very good question about this blood bag shaped like a teddy bear. Will children find it cute, or horrifying?

Me, I think it's kind of funny. I can also imagine many other entertaining shapes. Dinosaurs, rubber duckies, farm animals--the list is endless!

Of course, I am not a sick child needing blood.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

I Hear Bugs are High in Protein

I bookmarked this Well piece on Bugs in Your Food a while back because I thought it was an interesting question. Do we need to know if there might be traces of insects in our food?

The question is about cochineal and carmine, which are food dyes derived from insect bodies. The FDA has ruled that food containing this dye needs to state that ingredient on the label, but doesn't need to state its bugly origins. 

Personally, I'm inclined to say that what we don't know won't hurt us. Yeah, it sounds kind of gross, but so what if we get a little bug juice? Don't most people inhale a few bugs a year anyway? 

On the other hand, the article mentions allergic reactions--obviously a concern--and vegans would also like to know if there are living creature substances in an item, so perhaps it is an important bit of information.

On the third hand, if it's that important to certain specific people, might it not be OK to leave it up to them to know what cochineal and carmine are, without having to specify on every piece of packaging? 

On the fourth hand, we do see these general warnings of items 'processed in a facility that also processes wheat' or peanuts or tree nuts, while the lucky majority of people are not personally concerned with these ingredients, so this could be a public service along those same lines.

On the fifth hand, do we really have to use insects to make dye in this high-tech modern age? Don't we have cool chemicals for that?

On the sixth hand, bugs are natural and possibly organic, and who knows what chemicals are in those food coloring agents?--so maybe the insects are health food!

On balance...enh. I guess I don't have strong feelings either way. I'd just like to note that I'm not afraid of eating bugs. I have eaten fried grasshoppers. So there. (Not that I'm in a hurry to do it again.)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

One Step Closer to 'It'

I see on Shakesville that during the week, the House passed new rules for gender neutral language in its official communications. As one who has previously whined about how I think we should just call everyone 'it,' I am pleased to see this step in that direction.

Check out the Shakesville post for thoughts on why gendered language is worth being interested in, rather than merely a petty, trifling complaint that we shouldn't be worrying about because there are more important things going on. 

Friday, January 9, 2009

I Am Easily Impressed

Sometimes I see something and think "that's an awesome idea! How fabulous that this exists!"

Then I realize it's actually old hat. Still cool, though!

Take for example the T Alerts program offered by Boston's public transportation system. I think it's pretty new, though I missed the official rollout (and I ride the T every day!--nobody tells me anything). It lets you sign up to receive text notices to your email address or cell phone if there are delays on the lines of your choice around the travel-hours you specify.

Isn't that cool? You can get an alert if your bus is running late! I was greatly impressed, until I recalled that you've been able to do that with flights and airports for years. 

Nevertheless, I tip my hat to the T for implementing a potentially useful service. 

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Can't Get Enough Babies

E.J. Graff has a long, interesting (not to say disturbing) piece on RH Reality Check about international adoption. It's called The Lie We Love, because we all like to think that children in need of homes are out there, just waiting for loving adoptive parents. We can feel good about that story; caring parents rescue those far-off children and bring them home to a happier life.

Apparently it's not quite that simple. It never is, is it?

The piece details how countries will seem to have large numbers of healthy 'orphan' infants for adoption as long as citizens of Western nations like the U.S. are free to adopt them; but if regulations are tightened and adoption is made more difficult, you don't see anywhere near those numbers languishing in institutions. Those healthy infants are being cared for by someone once adoption isn't available, which makes the author wonder how orphaned they really were.

It appears that basically the presence of willing adoptive parents with cash to spend creates a market, which then produces a supply of babies that might or might not have been present before. Maybe parents are talked or pressured into giving up children they would otherwise have kept. Maybe they're deceived into signing papers they don't understand. Maybe the children are simply stolen. 

Regardless, the uncomfortable evidence suggests that we're buying babies. By being able and willing to pay amounts of money that are huge by local standards, people in developed nations cause adoptable babies to be found for them. Ah, the old demand and supply.

It's not a simple situation, of course. Adoptive parents genuinely, often desperately, want children. It's not their fault they want them, and not a bad quality in anyone to want to care for a child. And it's not as if they intentionally set out to purchase an infant, or know the potentially unsavory details (in those cases where details are unsavory: no doubt many adoption agencies operate under good, stringent policies to ensure these things don't happen).

One could also argue the children will have better lives--certainly they're likely to be better provided for materially--in the United States or Canada or Europe than in the poorer countries that have tended to provide adoptable babies. 

But other parents, the parents who gave birth to the children, may be losing them unfairly and cruelly and against their wishes. It's pretty hard to feel really comfortable with that.

The article reminded me of a book I read last year called The Baby Thief: The Untold Story of Georgia Tann, the Baby Seller Who Corrupted Adoption. Similar to some examples in the article, the book describes how Georgia Tann (whom author Barbara Bisantz Raymond, an adoptive parent herself, credits with inventing modern adoption) deceived women into giving up their children, paid nurses to tell parents their children were dead, and sometimes just plain kidnapped babies and gave them to other people.

It's probably unavoidably in the nature of adoption to get very deeply into a lot of complicated issues. Need and desire, finding joy in others' misfortunes, love and care and sorrow. Add in the profit motive, and it can get really uneasy.

I don't have any words of wisdom on the topic, or a pithy summary of my thoughts about this article and book...but they sure do make me think.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Sure Sign of Something

I've started getting a lot of spam messages referencing Facebook. 

Like, "Melinda sent you a message on Facebook." 

They may have been around before, but I don't recall getting them before this week. Has Facebook finally reached a critical mass of users, such that it's efficient to try to lure people to open messages pretending to come from it?

Sure, I personally think "Who the heck is Melinda? Also, why is this in my Junk folder, and why does the return address contain a weird(er than usual) string of letters and numbers?" but someone with a less effective spam filter, or who knows a Melinda, might well go ahead and open the message. 

And then purchase the pharmaceutical knockoffs or incur the virus infection or whatever the message is about. So very clever, these spammers.

I guess that's a sign of cultural relevance for Facebook. Or something.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Now for Something Really Dramatic

I see from Sid Schwab at Cutting Through the Crap that after some no-doubt painstaking calculations the Milky Way is now considered to be very likely the largest galaxy in the immediate stellar neighborhood!

It is at any rate at least as large as Andromeda, which had previously been awarded that crown. So, yeah! We live in an important cluster of stars! 

I don't know about you, but I feel better about life in general. 

Makes me want to renew my acquaintance with the Astronomy Picture of the Day, in hopes of one day seeing an illustration of our galaxy kicking Andromeda's butt in terms of hugeness. Yeah, that's a hard shot to get (multiple galaxy wide lens, anyone?), but I can hope.

Monday, January 5, 2009


I like iLibrarian's list of 10 Social Media Resolutions for 2009. Reminders 5 and 6, to Create Good Habits and Get Organized, are particularly telling for me. 

I should get organized, and form better habits for managing my various socially networked personalities!

I've left a profile or two to languish, unloved and un-updated. Is that any way to stay networked? On the other hand, who has time to cherish every single membership?

Still, it's a good list. 

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Oh, Drugs, Drugs, Drugs...

An interesting article in the New York Review of Books discusses the familiar concern of pharmaceutical company sponsoring research, conferences, continuing education, and physicians' general well-being (everyone loves those free pens!).

The piece, which reviews three books, is also a nice, concise overview of several other drug-related issues we may remember from previous reading, including: 
  • incompletely revealed study results, where write-ups of negative results are unlikely to be published and positive ones may be written to make a drug seem more effective; 
  • promoting drugs for off-label uses for which they haven't been proven to be effective; 
  • highlighting vaguely-defined ailments like social anxiety disorder as serious and requiring medication; 
  • advertising directly to consumers to convince them they need particular drugs.

Even the hallowed DSM is based more on "a complex of academic politics, personal ambition, ideology, and, perhaps most important, the influence of the pharmaceutical industry" than on hard evidence.

It doesn't even talk about the much-lamented high cost of prescription drugs and how that could be tied into the promotion of new medications of generics and all that. But let's just sum up thusly: 

Drugs: a Complex Issue. (I also considered Drugs: Gimme Some!)

The article is rather disheartening, concluding that 
It is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines
but it's a good read. Well, I'm off to fling my prescriptions out the window.

Friday, January 2, 2009

I Know There's a Better Way

--to get photos into Picasa than just uploading five at a time. I even know what it is, because it's right there: Uploader for Mac. 

But I can't make it work, and in my dazed, vacation-brained state it's somehow easier to upload my photos slooooooooowly a few at a time than try to figure it out.

I'm trying to finish an important science fiction novel at the same time, so the pauses between one 'choose photo' episode and the next are actually useful. Or so I tell myself.

In an utterly unrelated note, I want to salute Cara at The Curvature for two lengthy, detailed, and beautifully thought-out posts on Yoko Ono and her relationship with John Lennon and, by extension, the Beatles. I'm sticking it in here because I am unlikely to have a more graceful segue to the topic anytime soon, and found this analysis of a subject that has become part of pop-cultural history fascinating.

So yeah, that's all.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Paying for What You Use

This Staring at Empty Pages post has me thinking about my cell phone plan. It talks about how we may hesitate to spend money--even a little money--on something if the alternative is an inclusive "all you can use" package.

The post is specifically about text messages on cell phones: it might feel wasteful to send them at 5 or 10 or 20 cents each. They're often so casual and rather frivolous: "Hey, what's up?" "Here's a picture of my goofy new socks!" "My neighbors are singing loudly upstairs."

So instead we might get a text-message package for 5 or 10 or 20 dollars a month and then we can send as many as we want at no additional charge, yay!

Good deal, maybe. As the post points out, it doesn't really matter to the phone company, since anything they charge is way more than whatever it costs them to deliver the message. And it may sometimes be that the number of messages we send would never actually add up to the cost of the monthly plan, which is no bargain at all to us. 

I'm interested in the whole concept of the "big deal" (to bring libraries into it),  and the "all you can eat" (I can never eat enough to get my money's worth from buffets) and similar packages. They're always things you have to really think about to know whether or not it's actually a good idea. 

And thinking about these things is tiresome, and involves research and reading of small print, and honestly, maybe in some cases it's not worth your time to worry about it: just buy the monthly plan and forget it!

I kind of did that with our landline (which we still have, for no very pressing reason now that we both have cell phones) and internet plan: did some initial research, picked a plan that includes unlimited something-or-other, and haven't touched it since, even though it's now more expensive that it was, and I'm no longer sure it's the best deal for the way we use it. I just don't feel like doing all that reading and comparison all over again!

I did do extensive research and went with the pay-as-you-go cell plan, though, and I think it saves me money in the long run. Sure, 25 cents a minute isn't a great rate...but I rarely use 10 minutes in a month (just not a big phone-conversation person), so I spend far less than I would with a flat-rate plan that gives me a lot of talk time I wouldn't use. I spend a fair amount on 5-cent text messages, I suppose, but it still doesn't add up to $20 a month.

So, in the end, bargain!

I do want to try to talk more regularly with family in future, so maybe my phone needs will change. (I'm not making a resolution, because I don't make New Year's Resolutions, but it's a sort of general personal goal not tied to a specific arbitrary demarcation of time. Call people more often. You know, just in general and because.)

I hope I can get around to re-evaluating the available pricing options and making sensible adjustments if things do change significantly. If another plan turns out to be better in another situation, I will happily make the switch, as long as I know about it. (Brand loyalty? What's that?)

I just have to do the work to figure it out, since it's not particularly in the phone company's best interests to tell me "this is the way you can spend the very smallest amount of money on wireless services and still meet all your communication needs."

I guess what it comes down to is that it's often not really about finding One Forever-True Answer, it's about finding the Best Answer Right Now. Which is unfortunate, because you have to keep doing that work over again, but then, I like to think it keeps the brain lively.

Happy New Year, and here's hoping 2009 treats all my adoring followers and their lively brains well. 

Evaluate those package deals, people! I'm not saying they're all horrible swindles. Many of them are convenient and practical and will serve you well. But you should know that for sure, in these trying economic times. 

After all, if you save some money on your phone bill, you'll have more left over to buy me chocolate.